Jefferson County residents along the Arkansas River are urged to leave immediately as near-record crest levels approach on June 5.
Heavy rains in Oklahoma have inundated the river, which has a flood stage level of 42 feet in Pine Bluff. Many along the river have already left as areas near Regional Park, Island Harbor and others are experiencing rising water.
According to the National Weather Service, the river at Pine Bluff is supposed to crest at 49 feet on June 5. This would mark the fourth-highest crest in history. Other historic crests are:52.10 ft on 05/28/1943 (all-time record) 50.74 ft on 05/31/1957 49.90 ft on 04/21/1927
Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson said that the county is making preparations for what is expected to be major flooding, which would impact the Island Harbor area, as well as large sections of the eastern part of the county across the river.
The gates to Regional Park were closed Saturday, according to Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington. The Pine Bluff Street Department has delivered sand and sandbags to Riverside Drive, the mayor said, adding that “We urge citizens to take heed of warnings issued by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Management to protect themselves and their families this weekend.”
Karen Blevins, director of the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management, described what her office is doing ahead of the coming disaster.
“If there are household pets, we do have it set up where we can house them temporarily,” she said. “We are still working on a shelter in the Pine Bluff area, trying to get something set up. Some of the ones we normally use, because it is a holiday weekend, are not available. At this time, we have only had two people request shelter.”
Blevins said that there are currently two shelters set up for residents who need to evacuate their homes.
“On the north side of the river, we have one at the Wright community at the fire department,” she said.
“And we will have one down at Swan Lake. They are not completely operational yet, but we have to have them operational Saturday when the water gets up.
“We have been with the Salvation Army all afternoon. They went out with us earlier when we were out in the neighborhoods. The Red Cross has helped us a lot. They have provided cots for the shelters.”
Pine Bluff City Council member Win Trafford spoke about the dangers to area livestock.
“We are going to have a lot of livestock affected, lot of horses and goats,” he said. “I just think there is going to be a big need for assistance. I told our animal control director to reach out to different rescue organizations that we work with, and make sure we have shelter available for these animals, and to mention we do have livestock. We need to get those people going for the county. I want to help the county any way I can, but we have parts of our city that are going to be pretty bad also.”
Both Robinson and Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. are asking residents in the affected areas to evacuate voluntarily.
“Right now, the evacuation is voluntary, but as we get more information from the weather service, we may have to look at it being mandatory,” Robinson said. “If that happens, we will use all the tools we have including reverse 911 to notify residents.”
A news release from Woods said residents in the Island Harbor, Wright-Pastoria, Knotts Island, Riverside Drive and other areas surrounded by the Arkansas River are advised to head for higher ground beforehand.
“People in the affected areas, or those who are near waterways downstream from affected areas, should be prepared to flee toward higher ground in anticipation of flood water, an evacuation notice or evidence of soil instability,” Woods said.
“In spite of warnings, we have had numerous residents remain within the areas we know all too well that are affected by flooding. Again, we stress that property can be replaced but your life cannot,” Woods said.
In 2016, water levels along the river exceeded 46 feet, resulting in several communities across the river being cut off and several flooding at Island Harbor and other areas along the waterway. The only access was via boat. In 2015, a similar flood crested at 45.96 feet.
“If that happens, we will coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office to use their rescue boats, and we may have to ask citizens to help us getting people out,” Robinson said.
Anyone who needs assistance should call the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management at 870-541-5470.
According to a news release from the judge’s office, the following county roads are currently being repaired due to recent flooding: Alford Lane, Bruce Trail, Castro Road, E. Hart Drive, German Springs and Spencer Road.
Pine Bluff City Treasurer Greg Gustek, who lives on Riverside Drive, said about the only bright spot is that he and his neighbors know exactly where the water will go since they’ve lived through two other floods in recent years.
“But you have to deal with the smell and the animals after it’s over,” Gustek said. “It’s just not good.”
Historic Arkansas River crests at Pine Bluff(1) 52.10 ft on 05/28/1943 (2) 50.74 ft on 05/31/1957 (3) 49.90 ft on 04/21/1927 (4) 47.70 ft on 05/09/1990 (5) 46.24 ft on 01/02/2016 (6) 45.96 ft on 06/04/2015 (7) 44.70 ft on 04/26/1973 (8) 44.00 ft on 10/13/1986 (9) 43.75 ft on 04/14/2008 (10) 43.31 ft on 04/29/2011
Recent Arkansas River crests at Pine Bluff(1) 46.24 ft on 01/02/2016 (historic) (2) 45.96 ft on 06/04/2015 (historic) (3) 43.15 ft on 05/14/2015 (4) 43.31 ft on 04/29/2011 (5) 42.40 ft on 05/09/2009 (6) 43.75 ft on 04/14/2008 (7) 42.75 ft on 03/22/2008 (8) 38.91 ft on 12/19/2001 (9) 38.84 ft on 06/24/2000 (10) 42.41 ft on 06/18/1995